Last Tuesday, like everyone else, I had an Instagram feed filled with black squares. I liked a few, and a few more appeared. I liked a few more, then more appeared again. Then I began to wonder what I was doing. Was this the best way to support #BlackLivesMatter? It wasn’t long before a backlash appeared. And then I wasn’t sure what to do. So, I took to the internet and had a think.
And whilst I read and thought, something happened, locally. On Sunday afternoon, the statue of Edward Colston in the centre of Bristol was toppled and thrown into the docks. This statue has been in the centre of Bristol since 1895 and commemorates Edward Colston, an 18th century merchant, who bequeathed his wealth to the city. All that wealth came from human suffering; the transatlantic slave trade.
There have been many attempts, over the years (for more information, see the Countering Colston campaign), to have the statue peacefully removed. Campaigners have also tried to add a plaque to the plinth to recognise and acknowledge the people Colston and others in the city enslaved. However, there has always been opposition from the Society of Merchant Venturers.
There are other buildings and streets that commemorate Colston too. The author and historian, Phillipa Gregory attended the Colston Girls School in Bristol. Her book, A Respectable Trade is a novel about the devastating consequences of the slave trade set in 18th-century Bristol. She wrote it after researching the history that her old school had blanked out. The school has steadfastly refused to drop its name, although this week the replica of the Colston’s statue has been removed from the school’s reception. Colston Hall, Bristol’s premier music venue, has also removed its name from the building’s facade today, but a decision had already been made in 2017, that they would use another name when they re-open following building works.
For more reading on the slave trade and Bristol’s past, I would recommend this article by David Olusoga. He has also broadcast a recent programme that follows the history of a single house in Bristol.
Like many others, I have passed the Colston statue on the way to work, several times a week for twenty years. I’ve passed it and known, with discomfort, its history for years.
Discomfort. And Silence. These are the words that has come up again and again in what I have been reading over the last few days. To be someone without racist views is not enough. To be anti-racist is to be someone who speaks up too. I think in this city, the Colston statue is symbolic of this. Letting those few with racist views, “get away with it”, because the conversations are difficult.
I have a relative who gets carried away by conspiracy theories online. I like the way my son talks to him about his views. He challenges him, but always manages to continue to engage with him, making sure that differences in opinion don’t shut down the conversation. It probably helps that my son comes across as a young person wanting to question the world about him. I would do well to bear this in mind when I come across racist views; to have conversations with patience, care and diligence in a way that can influence the listener.
And, of course, I need to be a listener too. There’s always more to learn. I’m the next chooser for my book group (fiction only). I keep a reading wish list so that I always have a something to suggest when it is my turn. I haven’t pinned down my choice yet, but I have been considering one Andrea Levy‘s or Ngozi Adichie‘s books.
I’ve been looking around for some book lists to share with my group too, which could include non-fiction too. So far, I’ve seen, the Guardian reading list, the Vogue reading list and Pink Mimosa by Jacinta has posted a great reading list, which has a fashion angle to it.
If anyone has any more recommendations I would be very grateful.
I’ve also been thinking about how it is possible to provide more support for #BlackLivesMatter. First of all, I’m so glad the Sewing Weekender has chosen the Stephen Lawrence Trust as one of its charities and this is a list of ten anti-racist charities in the UK.
In the UK we have the Black Book, which is a directory of black-owned businesses. I also regularly browse through Kick Starter, which is a great way to fund and support start-ups. I often turn to it to support local businesses.
Black Makers Matter is great new initiative for supporting those who love to craft and make and affecting change in the sewing community.
Recent events should be just a catalyst for change and the small actions I’ve done in the last week are nowhere near enough. This won’t be my last post on this topic. So here’s to the future and to change.
Thank you for listening.